The House overwhelmingly voted to approve legislation Thursday repealing the 6-year-old renewable energy portfolio standard in Kansas requiring utility companies to generate one-fifth of power from renewable energy resources by the year 2020.
Adoption of the bill endorsed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and the Wind Power Coalition would bring to a close an intense, multi-year effort by conservatives to abolish the energy standard passed in 2009 in exchange for issuance of a permit for construction of a coal-fired power plant in Holcomb.
The House also sent to the Senate a bill legalizing distribution of a marijuana oil for treatment of chronic seizures, reducing sentences for first and second convictions for marijuana possession and allowing research on production of industrial hemp.
Under the negotiated energy deal unveiled Monday by Brownback and passed 107-11 by the House, the target of 20 percent renewable energy in 2020 would become an industry goal. The Senate is expected to follow the House by passing Senate Bill 91.
“This allows some free-market forces to go to work,” said Rep. Dennis Hedke, a Wichita Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Environment Committee.
Rep. Annie Kuether, a Topeka Democrat on the energy committee, attempted to persuade representatives to reject the measure. She said plans to dismantle the renewable portfolio standard were hammered out among lobbyists and Republican legislators behind closed doors. Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Kansans for Clean Energy, weren’t in the negotiations.
“This is our business,” Kuether told House members. “You were elected to do this job, not unelected lobbyists.”
Incentive for wind farm developers to accept conversion of the RPS to a voluntary objective was provided by a threat to impose a 4.3 percent excise tax on energy produced at wind farms, said Rep. Boog Highberger, D-Lawrence.
The legislation didn’t contain an excise tax, but included provisions that allow renewable energy producers to retain a lifetime exemption from payment of property taxes. New alternative energy units constructed after 2016 would receive a 10-year property tax exemption similar to the break provided facilities generating electricity from coal or natural gas.
The property tax paid in Kansas after that decade of operation would be the commercial rate of 25 percent rather than the utility rate of 33 percent.
“We should support business certainty in this state,” said Rep. Russell Jennings, R-Lakin.
The state’s RPS, along with federal tax breaks, drove expansion of wind farms from 1,000 megawatts in 2010 to 2,900 megawatts at present.
Meanwhile, the House voted 80-36 to adopt House Bill 2049 to reform the penalty for first and second offenses for possession of marijuana. Both offenses would now be misdemeanors, but the third conviction would stay a felony.
Extensive debate led to addition of an amendment offered by Rep. John Wilson, D-Lawrence, to create an opportunity to legally acquire marijuana oil shown to improve the quality of life for some children with seizures.
Wilson said the oil didn’t have chemical properties causing intoxication like pot smoked by people. The new program would be regulated by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Fees would cover the anticipated cost to the state, he said.
Rep. Dick Jones, R-Topeka, said the underlying objective was legalization of medicinal or recreational marijuana. There is no scientific evidence marijuana improves human health, he said.
In addition, the bill was amended at the request of Rep. Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs, to include provisions clearing a hurdle for research at state universities in Kansas on the potential of industrial hemp as a crop. The Kansas Department of Agriculture would develop rules for studies looking into required soils, seed selection, growing conditions and harvest methods.
Procedural objections in the House blocked an attempt by Rep. Bill Sutton, R-Gardner, to launch debate about repeal of the death penalty in Kansas and replace that sanction with life without the possibility of parole.